Dear Azami: Prismatic Tribal Notions

A reader is in desperate need of advice for their Horde of Notions deck, and Cassidy works his magic after being told that he has an unlimited budget to work from to make this Elemental playable for GenCon.

Horde of Notions! Between mono-white angels in my last installment and now this, it seems I’m on a tribal kick. These are pretty seriously different takes on the archetype, and there’s enough going on here that I really wanted to dig in and play around a bit. I’ll go on record as saying that this deck is the harder path of the two, for multiple reasons that I’ll expand on shortly. However, it’s got some cool potential, so we’ll see where things go.

Dear Azami,

A friend of mine suggested I email my deck list for my Horde of Notions deck.

I can’t seem to get it down to 100 cards. There’s just so much it wants to do, I have no idea. I don’t play too much Commander but some of my friends play it quite a bit. My plan is to play this at Gencon this year, so it has to be competitive. Ideally I want to utilize the crazy abilities a tribal Elemental Deck can pull off using recursion from Horde of Notions to answer situations and create my own. But I also need some sort of ramp to get the five colors of mana on the table, which is causing some space issues in the deck. I have a decent-sized budget for this and may have access to regular dual lands while at Gencon so go nuts.

My deck list is 15 over right now. Please help!

Abrupt Decay
Air Servant
Ancient Ziggurat
Ashenmoor Liege
Ashling the Pilgrim
Ashling, the Extinguisher
Aspect of Mongoose
Aura Shards
Avenger of Zendikar
Beast Within
Birthing Pod
Blood Crypt
Bojuka Bog
Breeding Pool
Brighthearth Banneret
Cathedral of War
Cavern of Souls
Celestial Colonnade
Chord of Calling
Chromatic Lantern
City of Brass
Command Tower
Commander’s Sphere
Consume the Meek
Corrosive Mentor
Creeping Tar Pit
Crosis’s Catacombs
Cryptic Gateway
Crystal Quarry
Darigaaz’s Caldera
Demonic Tutor
Domri Rade
Door of Destinies
Dromar’s Cavern
Expedition Map
Eyes of the Wisent
Fist of Suns
Flamekin Harbinger
Gaea’s Blessing
Godless Shrine
Hellspark Elemental
Incandescent Soulstoke
Jaddi Lifestrider
2x Kaleidostone
Keen Sense
Kulrath Knight
Leyline of Sanctity
Liege of the Tangle
Life from the Loam
Lord of Extinction
Maelstrom Pulse
Maelstrom Wanderer
Magmatic Force
Mana Confluence
Manaforge Cinder
Miren, the Moaning Well
Misty Rainforest
Molten Disaster
Mystical Tutor
Nova Chaser
Obsidian Fireheart
Overgrown Tomb
Path to Exile
Petrified Wood-Kin
Pride of the Clouds
Primal Beyond
Reflecting Pool
Reliquary Tower
Rith’s Grove
Rupture Spire
Sensei’s Divining Top
Signal the Clans
Sol Ring
Soulbright Flamekin
Stigma Lasher
Stomping Ground
Strip Mine
Subterranean Spirit
Sulfur Elemental
Sunflare Shaman
Survival of the Fittest
Swords to Plowshares
Sylvan Library
Temple Garden
Time Warp
Tooth and Nail
Torrent Elemental
Tracker’s Instincts
Vortex Elemental
Watery Grave
Wilderness Elemental
Winding Canyons
Witchbane Orb
Wooded Foothills
Worldly Tutor

Thank you,


Here’s the thing – in my opinion, five-color decks tend to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and end up both the least exciting and the least fun to play. You’d think that with all of the options available with no color restrictions, you’d have a field day putting together some of the most off-the-wall, interesting decks the format has ever seen.

Occasionally, this happens. Usually, it goes down like this:

  • Start to construct the manabase. Realize what a nightmare a five-color manabase actually is. Get very bummed out when you realize that you have nearly no room for cool utility lands like High Market and Mystifying Maze.
  • End up supporting all of this with many of the same usual suspects – Armillary Sphere, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Coalition Relic, Chromatic Lantern, Fist of Suns, and Prismatic Omen. Realize that half your deck is now dedicated to the hope that you can manage to play your commander at all, much less at a reasonable point in the game.
  • Do a little research. Notice that the fifty cards you have together are the same identical fifty cards that the guy with the Sliver Queen deck started with… and that lady with the Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck too. And Progenitus guy. And so on.
  • Shrug and move on. Look at the cool five-color options available. No one else can run these, so you feel compelled to do so.
  • Get sad when you realize that all of those lists you just looked up also run Conflux, Maelstrom Nexus, and at least three of the five Bringers. (Sorry, Bringer of the Green Dawn. No one likes you.)
  • Maybe the Nephilim? That could be fun, right?
  • Okay… time to build the deck. Wait, what? You only have seven free slots left. Bummer.

Maybe that’s over-selling the problem – and I know many of you have some pretty cool and inventive five-color lists. But this sort of thing does rear its head in many cases, simply because the temptation to play things that won’t fit in any other color combination is hard to resist.

The other problem here is that it also means that thematic cycles are pretty frequent. How many times have you seen a Slivers deck that is less than five colors? How about a ‘superfriends’-style planeswalker deck? These things are pitfalls that come with the territory, but it’s necessary to try to put on blinders and push forward if you ever want to sit down and play some games. There are millions of Magic players out there, so you need to reconcile the fact that it’s been done. All of it.

Which brings us back to Tribal Elementals. Adam, of the five-color commanders available, Horde of Notions is the one that is usually the least-represented, and that’s a plus in my book. Everyone has seen a Child of Alara deck or a Sliver Overlord deck. Progenitus Voltron. With the advent of the Tarkir block, most playgroups now have someone who has picked up Scion of the Ur-Dragon and pulled a Dragons list together. The real technicians have Reaper King control or combo decks, and you even see people try to do Cromat once in a while as a Swiss-Army-style toolbox deck.

Of the bunch, Horde of Notions usually gets overlooked. This is likely because as a whole, Elementals are a very disjointed tribe. Thematically… well, there is no real theme. It seems like Wizards of the Coast uses “Elemental” as sort of a catch-all for anything mystical and weird. As a result, there’s a distinct lack of unity that you see in other tribes; obviously, Slivers are the boss example here (under-represented, but Allies is a close second), but the usual suspects like Elves and Goblins all play pretty well together and have a ton of support. Elementals, not so much.

The long and short is that you’re going to need to dig for synergy pretty hard with Elementals.

Anyway, this is why I’m interested in digging in on this deck. I’m a sucker for “the road less traveled” when it comes to this format, so I’d love to see what we can cook up here. Without falling back on the usual Tribal suspects, we’re roughly looking at a list that isn’t going to surprise you; an Elementals-themed toolbox deck. I’m fighting the urge to go Voltron around Horde of Notions, who besides being a decent value engine with its activated recursion ability is still a base 5/5 with trample, vigilance and haste for five mana. That’s pretty damn good even for this day and age creature-wise – but I don’t want to discard all the synergy you already have built in place. Something for another day, perhaps?

We’ll apply a tune to get it to function a little smoother, and as you’re way over on slots, it’s likely going to be more about cuts than additions. I think I’m going to take the lean approach here – put the list on a diet, add some thematic protein to muscle things up, and hopefully we can come further towards a more competitive build for your GenCon plans. I think we can absolutely work on the manabase and fixing in the process; it’s not too far off, but it could use a slight repair.

Cool? Cool. Let’s see what we can do.


There are three ways to knock this one out:

  • The ‘Conventional Wisdom’ plan – run ten Revised dual lands, plus all ten fetchlands and shocklands.
  • The ‘Logical Overhaul’ – Run the green duals, fetches, and shocks, and then go deep on green’s ability to find ‘Forest’ instead of ‘basic land’ – things like Hunting Wilds and Wood Elves.
  • The ‘If It Ain’t Broke’ plan – tweaking what you have.

First of all, I have always disagreed with the ‘Conventional Wisdom’ plan. It’s excessive and unnecessary and doesn’t cater well to a deck with varied mana cost weighting – If everything needs a perfect balance of colors, sure. But if you don’t build it that way, it’s not happening. Besides – as I said above, who needs to clog up every single available land slot that fast and leave no room for utility?

My personal preference is ‘Logical Overhaul’ – my five-color manabase always defers to this plan. Run Tropical Island, Taiga, Savannah, and Bayou, plus the matching fetchlands and shocklands. From there, leverage what green does best – fix mana and accelerate. The benefit here is that you can run more basic lands, and get value from things like Kodama’s Reach and Yavimaya Elder while still leaving room for good utility lands AND doing a better job of fixing your mana at the same time.

Today we’re going with a hybrid of the last two on the list. The cool thing here is that you’re already on the ‘Logical’ path, with the four green shock lands on the list; past that, you’ve got a ton of good options in place already – maxing out the five-color lands, for example – and you aren’t annihilating your budget by dumping duals in. What I see is a good opportunity to put a tweak on the fixers and make what you have work quite a bit better. Here’s what I’m thinking:


Cathedral of War Reliquary Tower Vesuva Crosis's Catacombs Darigaaz's Caldera Dromar's Cavern Rith's Grove

Cathedral seems to be pretty superfluous here; I don’t see a reason to try and send just one creature at a time into the red zone, so I think it would be better to use this slot to fix your colors than to try and get that Exalted bonus.

The same goes for Reliquary Tower. You do have some card draw, but not enough for this to really matter in most cases.

The Planeshift-era tri-lands tend to get a little unwieldy in a five color deck because you’re often struggling to hit your mana as quickly as possible and stay at parity. These aren’t quite as much of a ‘lose one turn’ effect as the Alara-era tri-lands, but they’re close – and there are better ways to guarantee exactly the right mana for what you want to be doing at a given time.

Vesuva is a bit slow as well for the same reasons. Sometimes you get a turn-two copy of Command Tower, and other times you have a ton of things producing the same two or three colors on turn four and you really need to hit a land drop in your missing color. Vesuva doesn’t help there at all.

Here’s the fix:


Verdant Catacombs Windswept Heath Terramorphic Expanse Evolving Wilds Plains Island Mountain Swamp Forest

Adding in the final two green fetch lands gives you the ability to find any color of mana you need when you play one. We’re going to double up your basic lands to a pair of each in total, and round out with the venerable ‘basic fetches’ in Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. These changes will allow us to leverage some additional manafixing in the main deck, and you should be able to nail your mana requirements across the board.

We’re also adding two lands to bring your total up to 38. With a five-color deck, this is an unfortunate necessity to assist in proper mana production, but having a couple fewer business slots is fine when you can actually cast the spells in your hand.


Here’s what I like the most about this deck:

The one thing that you can always do to take a deck built around a “weaker” tribe to the next level is to make each creature do more than at printed face value. This is something that all creatures can benefit from obviously, but for a tribe like Elementals it becomes extra important to get more value than you would playing the card by itself. This is where passive effects like Aura Shards come into play: with a deck built around a value engine like this one, getting triggers that blow things up and do other beneficial things is pretty important.

To that end, I’m going to up that type of effect in this area, in addition to adding a few more mana-fixing elements that work in conjunction with the lands added in the prior section to really lock down your mana.


Abrupt Decay Consume the Meek Domri Rade Expedition Map Eyes of the Wisent Keen Sense Life from the Loam Signal The Clans Stranglehold Time Warp

You must have a drastically different metagame than I do, or else you’re suffering from bleed-over from Modern or Standard. In my experience, Abrupt Decay is terrible late game, and is only okay at killing inconsequential things in the early game. That’s got to go, and so does Consume the Meek for the same reasons.

Domri Rade goes just because he’s a weak card advantage effect that tips your hand to your opponents. A few of your creatures will stand up to fighting, but many are too small to matter – I don’t think you’ll be using that mode all that often. And bless you if you pull off the ultimate… but I doubt you will.

Expedition Map is awesome, but it’s getting upgraded. Life from the Loam is getting dropped altogether since I don’t think it’s really optimized to do anything in this deck. (No real ‘lands matter’ engines, no cycle lands… no bueno.) Along with that, Signal the Clans is going away as well; in a deck with such varied creatures and effects, it’s not good enough to play to 33% odds. You have Survival of the Fittest – that’s your tutor engine. (And yes… I whole-heartedly support Survival in this deck. It can easily be broken in the right build, but this one is a good middle-of-the-road deck that needs a leg up in the toolbox selection area. It’s fine.)

Eyes of the Wisent is certainly fun due to the Elemental interaction, but the ability is really closet-case. (Maybe again I don’t understand your metagame, and you play against nothing but blue control decks. No clue.) I’m also nixing Keen Sense, just because I don’t think the value is worth what it usually ends up delivering and you’re not rebuying this easily.

Finally, we have Stranglehold and Time Warp. These are the two potential “fun suck” cards; I’m actually sure Stranglehold is. Why this was printed in a Commander set for the first time is beyond me; my experience with this card is that it does nothing but create miserable people. While Time Warp isn’t Time Stretch, some people still roll their eyes at extra-turn effects and in this deck, it’s not much more than a lightning rod at best. You’re not typically setting up bomb-tastic turns, you’re playing the attrition game for the most part, so the hate this will draw doesn’t seem worth the leverage you can apply with it.


Grave Pact Goblin Bombardment Nameless Inversion Crib Swap Armillary Sphere Nature's Lore Skyshroud Claim Hunting Wilds

To add to the Aura Shards value engine plan, I’m also bringing in Grave Pact. Again, it’s a bit of a lightning rod, but in this case, you need the effect – removal in general, and removal that can deal with indestructible and hexproof cards, plus it also makes each creature you play a little more valuable.

To go hand in hand with Grave Pact is Goblin Bombardment. A little staple-ish, but really you want to be able to sacrifice creatures at will and your commander loves Elementals in the yard. A little extra damage and removal doesn’t hurt either.

Speaking of removal and Elementals in the yard, I’m adding Nameless Inversion and Crib Swap. Crib Swap isn’t bad on its own as a solid exile effect, and while Nameless Inversion might not be up to snuff as a plain removal spell, it can wreck combat math on both sides of the battlefield and it gets way better when you run a commander that can keep re-casting it from the yard at will. (Horde of Notions lets you play Elemental cards – not just Elemental creatures – and Changeling cards are certainly Elementals.)

Moving on, we come to the mana-fixing suite. Armillary Sphere is the card that complements the addition of those extra basic lands, Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. This is an easy, cheap and colorless way to hit likely a minimum of three of your five land types, assuming you’re casting it off of something that isn’t Strip Mine or Miren, the Moaning Well.

From there, we dive right into the “find a Forest” effects I was discussing earlier. There’s not much flash here, just good, solid mana fixing. Nature’s Lore is the bargain end of things, while Skyshroud Claim represents the high end as the Forests enter the battlefield untapped. Hunting Wilds slots in the middle and can double as a win condition as well.

I think this all ought to set your deck up to be pretty solid to run, and with the right effects to make it a contender. Also, we’ve regained the two slots we lost to the land additions, so we’re back to needing to free up fifteen slots total. How is that going to work, exactly?

Fingers are crossed.


Let’s start with the massacre. Ready for this?


Air Servant Ashenmoor Liege Ashling the Pilgrim Corrosive Mentor Dread Heartmender Hellspark Elemental Jaddi Lifestrider Kulrath Knight Magmatic Force Manaforge Cinder Nova Chaser Obsidian Fireheart Pride of the Clouds Soulbright Flamekin Spawnwrithe Sulfur Elemental Sunflare Shaman Vortex Elemental

There’s some cool stuff in here, and some decent role-players, and then there’s a ton of stuff that seems inconsequential at best. I wanted to find a little space to add a few new creatures while also trying to make up the deficit of fifteen slots that you originally asked me to try to knock down. That meant a lot of thematic hedge-trimming.

Since this deck isn’t really a mana-heavy deck, Air Servant seemed like a weak combat trick or pseudo-Fog at best. If it were bigger for the cost, or that ability were cheaper, I might reconsider. Ashling the Pilgrim is in line with Air Servant. Cheap, yes. Hard to really utilize in a five-color deck? Yes again. Ashling also gains a ton by being in the command zone, rather than the main deck, so it’s not as good here as it can be elsewhere. (Like, say, with a pile of 99 Mountains!)

Ashenmoor Liege is a victim of its own mana cost and weak backside. The hybrid mana does mitigate things a bit, but it still forces you away from assembling a chromatic set. It also dies to a stiff breeze, and the four-point life loss is really easy to sidestep. Dread is also a victim of the triple-black cost for the most part, although I typically hate the “poisonous frog” effect as well. You’re still taking a beating, so the usefulness loses a step. Fear on a 6/6 is nice, but that’s about where it ends. Obsidian Fireheart is here too for the triple red cost, and while I admit that I think the activated ability to “ignite” a land is interesting and cool, my personal experiences have been that people get irritated by it, and overreact to it.

Corrosive Mentor seems like it would be better served if you ran more black creatures, or made giant piles of black tokens. It’s not very threatening here, where you only have a handful of black creatures and not much of a good way to make tokens in the right color.

Heartmender… there is not enough persist (nor a dedication to adding -1/-1 counters to things) in the deck to make this worth the space. Similarly, Hellspark Elemental doesn’t enjoy enough power enhancers to be worth it either. A 3/1 two turns in a row doesn’t exactly have anyone shaking in fear. Kulrath Knight is in the same boat as Heartmender; it really wants to not attack and let other creatures get out there and wither things up. Without good wither sources, this isn’t getting much mileage.

Nova Chaser is like a big brother to Hellspark Elemental. With a really weak toughness, it’s rarely going to do much more than swing once if it is lucky. I do like the idea of the champion theme in theory, but in practice Nova Chaser ends up being nothing more than a way to sandbag existing creatures for later – there’s no real gain to be made.

Magmatic Force… yeah. It’s great that it deals damage each turn (and not just your own), but eight mana needs to get me something more than a 7/7 with no evasion that will still scare the crap out of the other players in about two turns flat.

Manaforge Cinder is a cool mana-fixer, but the limitation on color means that it’s just not very effective at what it does. I want an Elemental Birds of Paradise here, and this thing falls well short of that mark. Jaddi Lifestrider is pretty decent in token decks, but there are easier ways to gain a ton of life than to tap yourself out to gain like eight life.

Pride of the Clouds seems like an awfully hard way to make tokens, and unless I’m missing something else in the deck, you’re not going to be getting much of a beater when you actually decide to play the card itself instead of going the forecast route.

Soulbright Flamekin is likewise an awfully hard way to give your team trample, and since this deck doesn’t seem to really aim to do multiple giant creatures attacking at once I don’t think you’re getting value out of going for the triple activation. I guess I’ve also cut the red mana sinks as well, so the bonus mana isn’t doing you much good anyway.

Spawnwrithe is a tough one for me. I’ve seen it do decent work when it hits early and gets swinging. Unfortunately, I’ve also tried to get it to do decent work for me, and it always ends up eating removal or not being able to get through to deal damage to a player by the time I get it online. I’m going with my biased opinion here.

Sulfur Elemental – again, I must be missing something about your metagame because flashing in an answer to 1/1 tokens doesn’t really do much where I’m from unless it can handle green ones. Besides, you already have Subterranean Spirit for that – and nice job digging up a card there that I didn’t know existed to begin with, much less one on the Reserved List. A for effort.

I like the idea of Sunflare Shaman, but both in theory and in practice it’s a little out of place for this deck. I don’t foresee you ending up with a ton of Elementals in your graveyard at any given time, and when you do have them there it’s likely going to be better to have Horde of Notions just replaying them instead.

Finally, Vortex Elemental. What did we say earlier about mana-hungry cards in this deck? In this case, I think people are generally ready to deal with slow on-board tricks like this through sacrifice effects, tap abilities and hexproof, and it won’t often end up doing what you want it to as a result.

Okay… with that out of the way, I have just a few more additions to introduce, and we’re all done.


Shriekmaw Bane of Progress Taurean Mauler Mirror Entity

I’d be remiss if I didn’t have the one Elemental out there that kills creatures with an enters-the-battlefield trigger. This one especially works well with Horde of Notions through the initial evoke cost, putting it immediately in the graveyard for only two mana to be used and reused again.

Bane of Progress is the new kid on the block in Elemental-land, and it’s hard to argue with a pseudo-Fracturing Gust that – at least in my experiences with it so far – usually ends with a gigantic beater for you in the process.

Speaking of beaters, Taurean Mauler is taking another page from the Changeling playbook. It can easily grow out of control in a hurry, and it represents another good way for you to field an on-theme game-ender. On that same coin, and arguably to a far greater degree, you have Mirror Entity. This card feels like cheating – it seems like it should somehow be limited, or cost more than just whatever amount of mana you can pour into it. Believe me when I say that this has been a surprise closer in many games I’ve played, and it excels in environments where the deck it finds a home in is playing small utility creatures that don’t draw a ton of attention. Surprise! You just got one-shotted by a 38/38 Eternal Witness


Here’s where we end up:

Magic Card Back

The standard $20 store credit you will be receiving for participating in today’s Dear Azami should go a long way towards this list, which is pretty reasonable for what we’ve added in functionality:

Not bad at all considering that there are multiple fetchlands in there.

I hope this hits the mark, Adam. It seems to have accomplished just about everything that was on your wish list, so I hope you enjoy the new angles and lines of play. I don’t think this is a deck that will end up Tier One particularly, but the right angle of play with it should guarantee that you have a good control grasp during the entire game, and you should be able to get a lot of mileage out of that.

Good luck with GenCon!

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